I bought my 2012 Chevy Malibu LS new in 2012 due to us losing a company car, and we went cheap on the trim. I have 2 children (under 5), and I can't say that I'm all that impressed with my Malibu, especially when comparing it to my wife's 2009 Ford Fusion SEL. The Malibu's 2.4L engine is very underpowered for a sedan. The transmission has never downshifted smoothly when approaching a light/stop sign (I'm assuming GM programmed the transmission this way to improve fuel economy). The fuel economy isn't as advertised (especially around town). We've had 3 recalls on the car, and for only having 39,500 miles, there are more squeaks and rattles than my wife's Fusion. The brakes and tires have worn very quickly. My friend has complained about the same issue with the same car. The throttle hesitates, and it seems the torque converter has a difficult time applying power to the wheels at lower RPMs. The paint scratches very easy, and the trunk opening is so small. We cannot the same types of items in my Malibu as we can in the Fusion (stroller, infant's swing, etc). On the positive side, we haven't had any major issues with it so far, and it is a very comfortable car to drive. The cabin is very quiet, and the car is easy on the eyes. The car is good in the snow, and the Bluetooth technology works great. The car warms up quickly in the winter. It is probably a nice vehicle for a single driver, but for a family it doesn't quite get the job done. I wouldn't recommend buying this vehicle.
Recently my workplace replaced the 2009 Impala I had been driving with a 2012 Malibu. The exterior design looks more modern than the Impala, but the ride is much more stiff. The steering is very light, reminding me a little of the Buick my grandparents had in the 80s. The build quality seems good--solid Ka-thunk when doors close. Interior graphics for the trip computer and clock seem dated. The power adjustment for lumbar support is a nice touch. In 1500 miles of mostly highway driving the car has been getting 22.5 MPG with E85, which is required by my workplace.
I greatly enjoy the shiftable "M" mode of the transmission, which makes the car feel more sporty by letting you crank up the RPMs prior to shifting. The exterior styling seems nice. The 4-cylinder engine has been surprisingly powerful. I like the straghtforward, easy-to-use layout of interior dials and controls. Trip computer/info and reset buttons are easy to use.
Rear visibility is a challenge with the high trunklid. Headreast angle seems too far forward, resulting in craning one's neck forward. The two-tone dash and shiny chrome interior trim create an annoying reflection on the windshield and driver's side window in sunny weather. Cupholder location is a little awkward. Interior relies heavily on cheap-feeling plastic. E85 is required by my workplace, and other Malibus in the fleet have had fuel system problems (filter or pump failure). The driver's seat could use some type of seat cushion angle adjustment. Ride is a bit noisy and rough over expansion joints and bumps easily found on Michigan highways. Cruise control buttons are small.